Kenny Hamilton | In episode 103 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits talks with Kenny Hamilton, Justin Bieber’s longtime bodyguard and mentor turned music business executive
If I were to make a modern day version of the Kevin Costner-Whitney Houston movie “The Bodyguard,” it would be based on the life of Kenny Hamilton. His experience handling security for a 14-year old Justin Bieber, would give writers plenty of material to work with. In his current incarnation as managing partner at thet CSH group, Kenny focuses on artist development and music management. We talk about fan mania, what he learned from Bieber, how Jerry McGuire changed his life, cannabis and his stint with the Navy, Atlanta as a rap music breeding ground, the art of keeping safe at big festivals and the secret of his friendship with then-on-the-rise mega mogul Scooter Braun.Read Transcript
If I were to make a modern day version of the Kevin Costner, Whitney Houston starring movie, the Bodyguard, it would be based on the life of my guest today, Kenny Hamilton. His experience handling security for the then new to the world of pop stardom Justin Bieber, would give writers more than enough material to work with. Including a sequel or two to tell the story of a modern day entrepreneur who has parlayed his experiences, both the good and not so good, and turned it into the proverbial lemonade. In his current incarnation as managing partner at the CSH group, he focuses on artist development and music management. How he went from security to the corner office has been anything but conventional, including a stint with the Navy and hooking up with then on the rise mega mogul Scooter Braun. Welcome, Kenny Hamilton.
Thanks for having me. How are you?
I’m great, man. Thanks for being on the show. So there’s a lot to talk about, so let’s talk with the present and work our way back. So what’s on your plate now? I see one of your artists Dixon had a song recorded by Beyonce. What does that mean to the career of an artist like Dixon?
Ah, well right now, Dixon is actually the first male R&B singer signed to Roc Nation. Outside of him being an artist, he’s also an incredible writer and producer. And yeah, we have a- a song in the new film, King Richard, that stars Will Smith. It’s the story about Venus and Serena and their father. And the song, Be Alive, that Beyonce performed, is the end credit song. We just saw the film last night actually, at the premier out here in LA.
Um, and where they placed the song was incredible. For somebody like that, it means a lot. He’s been mentioned, left and right. He’s gotten a lot of new eyes on him. A lot of people in the business who knew him behind the scenes are now championing him. He was known as Darius Scott a few years ago, and he was on the voice in 2016, and Pharrell had grabbed him. When Pharrell was one of the hosts on the voice, and him and Pharrell have a really good relationship. It’s blossoming. This business is all about timing, and we- we’ve just finished his album that’ll be coming out first quarter of 2022. And now we have, you know, this record by Beyonce. And, hopefully more on her album, ’cause they’ve collaborated on a lot more songs.
And this song was actually grabbed from the album basket that fit with this movie perfectly. So, I mean, this is a life changing moment. Last night, with him being in that room, and meeting a lot of people. It was one of those surreal moments that you kind of dream about. And it’s one of the reasons why I love this business, because I’ve seen him when no one knew him in the room. And now he’s in the room, and everybody wants to know who he is. And, that’s a beautiful thing.
So why did he sign with you, do you think? Obviously there’s a lot of management companies going after everybody (laughs) at every minute, right?
Very competitive. So why would he sign with you? What would be your pitch to somebody you wanted to get to work with you?
Well with Dixson, we have a unique relationship, because I’ve actually known him since he was a teenager.
When I got out the Navy, I moved back to Atlanta… this was early, like February of 2004. And that year, I started interning at a radio station and later was hired there. And that’s when Scooter Braun and I met, and Scooter was managing some artists then that I started to work with him on. That artist that Scooter was managing was Dixon’s older cousin. So, when I started working with them, he was in high school and 14 years old. And he used to come around the studio, and you know, play on the instruments and just kinda hang out with us. I had known him since then and been watching his career progress. And I was managing a group that was signed to Atlantic Records. And during the summer of the pandemic, they ended up moving to Atlanta, leaving LA. And you know, we just split working ways, it wasn’t working out.
And Dixon called me. He was like, “Hey, man. Uh, I started working on some Beyonce stuff. I started doing this. I just produced, and worked with Chance the Rapper on his latest album. And I’m, in Chicago right now, because I was supposed to go on tour with Chance, but the pandemic shut it down.” He was like, “You know, I think I’m at that point where I need to be with somebody who can get in different rooms that everyone else can’t get into.” And I’ve been blessed to be in a position in my career where, because of the Bieber world and the Bieber phenomenon, there’s not a room that I don’t know a person in at this point.
And that’s kinda how the business goes. A lot of people that I knew that were VPs are now running labels now, or- or just started off as interns or lower level people that are big execs in a lot of these buildings. Whether it’s in the TV or film world, or in the music world. And, my Rolodex has become very strong. And you know, that was a thing for him to wanna call me again and ask me to be a part of what he’s building, what he’s trying to do. Um, and it- it- it worked out.
And now you have a Rolodex that, uh, you know, enables you to, work with any kind of artist.
Correct. That just comes with time. I started my career in radio once I got out of the military. And that’s where Scooter and I first met, at my first radio station. I was an on air personality in Atlanta on the weekends at one of the pop stations. And then later moved on to a pop rhythmic station. I met a lot of people through that time, as well as, interning for Jermaine Dupri of So So Def. JD is still one of the best songwriters, producers that I’ve ever come across. I mean you look at his credits, we know who Jermaine Dupri is. He’s in the songwriters Hall of Fame. And just throughout the years, when you see a lot of different artists. From a Ludacris, or a Bow Wow and all these different people. And you’re around this stuff so early, and everybody just elevates and grows, you know?
Scooter was running marketing for So So Def. Now he’s arguably one of the biggest music executives in the world. I always say consistency breeds success. And just being consistent and putting in the work. There’s no telling where you go. But here we are today, and now I’m speaking with incredible humans like yourself.
(laughs) Well, thank you. LA and New York get the press, but Atlanta has its own very strong and vibrant scene. You grew up there. You saw a lot of it. We don’t really know very much about Atlanta (laughs), you know? Of course, we hear Hot-Lanta.
We know there are a lot of artists coming out of there. Obviously it’s changed quite a bit since you were born.
I would think, right?
Yeah, you know-
What’s it like?
The crazy thing is, you know, I remember JD used to call Atlanta the Motown of the South. Atlanta always had a pulse, just in culture, especially in Black culture. Atlanta was the New York City for Black people growing up in the South. My father’s from Jackson, Mississippi. My mom is from North Carolina. But getting to Atlanta from any of those towns, especially during the civil rights era, that was like, oh, you made it. You out the deep South, we know all the horror stories of during the Jim Crow era and the, and the civil rights era. My father has a scar over his eye where he was beat a few times, getting stopped by the police and things of that nature.
So Atlanta always had this thing for Black people, about if I get to Atlanta, I’ve made it. Chicago has another mystique about that as well. Chicago is just a little different, ’cause it was across the Mason-Dixon line. Which, for people that don’t know what that is, that’s the segregation line, per se, from the South to the North back then. So you look in the early 90s when it really started, and then OutKast, they had a crew called the Dungeon Family. And that was their production team. That was, Goodie Mob, which was another group. But it was 1995, I want to say, OutKast at the Source Awards won Best New Artist. It was right when Tupac and Biggie started having the East Coast/West Coast wars. You started seeing that in the press.
And OutKast got on the stage and said, “The South has something to say.” And from that point on, I mean, people don’t realize, you gotta look at what Jermaine Dupri did with bringing out Kris Kross. That was 90, 91, 92. They were the biggest thing, went platinum, won awards. Dallas Austin with Monica. Usher was found at 13 years old, when he put his first record out in 93. TLC. And then you had L.A. Reid and Babyface, with LaFace, that they brought out. And you know, all the artists that came from there.
And then the rap scene just kinda took over. So when you look at it now you can go from a Young Jeezy to a Ludacris, to, Migos, to Young Thug, Lil Baby. Every hot rapper… Summer Walker is also from Atlanta, who just had a number one R&B album, the biggest streaming R&B album for a female on Apple Music. Or a Black female. But all of these people are from Atlanta. So even from the early 2000s with Lil Jon and the East Side Boys, and the crunk movement, and the snap movement… there’s been waves of movements that come through. And here we are again with Atlanta, I think Atlanta still runs the music scene. Because all the popular artists are all from Atlanta.
But yet, you live now, in Los Angeles. And we know that… a lot of people leave Atlanta, because of the business, there’s all kinds of practical reasons for doing that. And that’s historically one of the issues for smaller markets. Because there’s not enough development, the infrastructure isn’t there. The industry entertainment world is not focused or looking at that, the media world is not focused on that. So do you feel that’s what’s gonna be a continuing story, or will Atlanta at some point-
Establish itself- Beyond how it is now?
I hope so, because since LaFace, you haven’t had a really big label put, boots on the ground in Atlanta, right? And it’s crazy, because when you look at the country music scene, every major company has an office in Nashville. But yet so much is coming out of Atlanta, but then everyone has to fly to LA or New York
… to get the deals done, which is why I’m here. Because as a creative, you can live wherever you want to live. And creatives are all in Atlanta, for the most part. There’s obviously a very large number L.A. as well. But you don’t have that. Now, UTA is one of the first companies now that is opening an office in Atlanta. They’re a talent agency. But as far as record labels, or streaming companies, I know Spotify had a satellite situation that was set up like a WeWork type of space, in Atlanta, but that’s still … not the same as having a building, a Google as some of these other companies, are building down there as well. Mercedes Benz moved one of their big headquarters there.
There’s a lot of big Fortune 500 companies that are based in Atlanta. But for music for some reason, especially the urban music scene, it’s like why, why isn’t their offices there? And that’s been a huge debate for a long time. As to, why doesn’t it get treated like country music when it’s … Hip-hop’s the biggest genre in music right now. It generates the most money.
By far, yeah. You mentioned the pandemic earlier and I know that it definitely threw a wrench into the music industry. Touring has become such a big part of the business today, more than streaming. Probably you know better, but that’s sort of my sense that a lot of the money is actually made on the road, and the records support the, the road, the tour. So, now we’re sort of coming back to life. Right now that industry is coming back to life. How do you see what’s coming down the road? Do you feel like it’s opening up enough now?
I feel like 2022 it is. Last week we just announced my artist, Rotimi, his tour. He’s going out on the road starting January 12th. We’re doing 18 cities between here, Canada, and Europe. I’m also currently working on a show in Tel Aviv. I’m trying to put a date together over there in Israel.
It’s very interesting because of certain states that have, COVID vaccine mandates, and other states that don’t. And the political fight behind everything, it makes it very complicated. The biggest issue that we see right now … Because there were a few cities that we weren’t able to route on the tour, just because there wasn’t space. Because everyone’s going out now.
Ah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
You know, everyone’s trying to get this real estate to go out. Also even Justin Bieber just announced his world tour for his world dates towards the end of 2022, into, into 2023, just because there’s only so many places that a lot of buyers can go. And most cities only have either one venue or two venues. If it’s not the one arena. For my artists, we’re doing thousand cap rooms.I wanted to just get them back out there, because I also think the income generating entry point is one thing, but if you want to build a long-lasting artist, they have to be able to perform. You got to put them in front of people.
Because those fans that you see in these smaller rooms know build the story for when you get to the 10,000 person rooms, or the Hollywood Bowls or, you know, the Microsoft Theaters before you get to a Staples type centers type of venue, as you build. So touring is without a doubt one of the most important things to an artist’s career. And everybody’s really running to get outside, and get this real estate now. It’s definitely opening up and, um, I think 2022 is going to be great.
Because of all of the excitement generated by the fans who haven’t had the chance to see their artist, some negative stuff has happened as well. The Travis Scott incident recently, where I don’t know, eight or more people were killed,
at the festival there. Has that affected your business yet, with a lot more people looking much more carefully at touring, at events, at crowd control?
Yeah. It definitely has. And I think it’s going to change festivals going forward as well. I was actually talking to a friend of mine, who used to run a big touring company. He was in town last weekend. We were talking about it just because the, the magnitude … It was 50,000 at the Astroworld festival. And just how the crowd should have been broken up more, with the barriers in, in the middle and everything else, to try to alleviate some of that pressure. Because it gets very hard.
For any of these festivals to be insured going forward, they’re going to have to have even more than what they did before, as far as the barriers. But, I also think that’s going to dictate the type of artist that gets booked for certain shows. It’s sad that this happened during Travis’ show, or this happened period.
If you look back at injuries and things from rock concerts, or heavy metal concerts and different genres where they have these mosh pits and these type of things, or electronic festivals it’s not uncommon to have injuries, or people like that now. For people to die. Like they have, this has happened before. But yeah. This is going to change everything drastically, I believe. It’s sad that it happened. It’s sad, obviously talking to families. I just saw there was a, a nine-year-old boy’s not the youngest, um-
… person that passed. And, you just never want that. You just want people to have a good time. But, you know. I know, I know Travis. Travis is a nice guy. Um-
We live in the age where you do one thing wrong, then we go back in your life, and we try to come and say, “Ooh, he said this right here. See? He wanted this to happen” eight years later. You know?
I hate that that’s happening to him right now. But this definitely is drastically going to change the business.
People think that this is new in the sense that any time there’s a festival, any time there’s an event, I threw many events, I’ve worked on parties. You’re always worried about security. You’re always worried about the crowds. How, how … What’s it going to be like? So now, when this happens, the stories come out saying, “Oh, they were worried about the crowds.” Yeah, of course they are, because any time you do an event with crowds, you’re worried. You have people whose jobs is to do nothing but that.
And you for example, are familiar with fan mania. You lived through probably one of the greatest examples of that in recent history.
I imagine you were in situations that was particularly hairy that could have gone, you know, either way.
Absolutely. With Justin his first tour was an arena tour. It was an arena tour around the country, and actually he did about 100 shows on his first tour. And, there would be times I would have meetings. We always have a tour venue security guard that travels with us, that would liaison with the local security. And I would sit in on some of the security meetings sometimes just to kind of hear what was going on, and to make sure that these folks understood that when these girls see him, it’s like they just lose all sense of reality, everything else is around. They’re just screaming, running towards him. They don’t know their mom, they don’t know their dad. And, you got to be careful just to make sure that they’re okay. And watch the little smaller ones.
And I remember seeing his first My World tour, there would be, you know, moms with their daughters, or older sisters with their little daughters and stuff. And these kids are pushing up against that first barricade. So, you know, time and time again, girls are hot. They’ve been there for an hour, or two hours. And they start to pass out. And you, you know, you grab them. I was making sure that everybody had water on the front to just keep giving people water if they needed it. It got dicey sometimes. But you pull the people out, you pull them to the side, help them cool off, there was like two times I remember where a girl faked it, and tried to run back stage. But-
Another guy got them. (laughs) being at large shows like that, I can’t imagine what the people were saying. I saw one fan, was writing about how she lost her friend in the melee of the crowd, and they just couldn’t move, because It really is, it was like a ocean. It’s like waves moving and you can’t do anything. Um, so yeah, man. But those are crazy times.
You were thinking about protecting the fans, but you also had, prime job protecting Justin.
And, from my research, I saw that this could become pretty scary as well, going into some countries where it was pretty much outlaw territory. I believe … Where was it? In Colombia, or in one of these sort of drug cartel countries where-
Oh, you, you know what I’m talking about. So Venezuela. So what … Tell me how … What was that like?
It was very interesting. That’s when President Chavez his regime was still running the country and, when Justin was younger, certain countries … I always had an advance security team. Uh, our advance security team, I really, we ran it like a military operation, because I would send two guys ahead of any city that we were going to a day or two days before. Put them up, have them run the routes to the venues, have them check out the venues, everything.
The hotels, we would look at the staff. The ways that we would get in and out of the building, because in a lot of the third-world countries the fandom was so insane, there were times where we would have to fly in, get on a helicopter, land on the roof, because we just couldn’t go through the streets. The streets were completely shut down, because it was just, you know, fans everywhere.
But in Venezuela, I got a phone call. We had stopped … We left Mexico, stopped in Bogota Colombia to refuel on the plane. And, I get a call from my advance guys. And they’re like, “Hey, uh, you know, when you land on the tarmac, um, the President’s family is going to be there to greet you.” And I was like, “Well, I already set it up for them to meet him at the venue, because he had been traveling, just did a show the night before, and we were in a city in Mexico where we couldn’t stay, because of cartels, and he was under age. And there was a kidnapping risk that was in the intel that I had gotten.
So, we literally flew to one city in Monterey, Mexico, took back off. So, he’s tired, and I know he doesn’t want to do a meet and greet before he even walks off the plane. So, I told them, I said, “Just, politely ask them to meet him at the venue.” I get a call back 30 minutes later and they said, “Well, you know, there’s an issue that they’re going to let the plane land, but the plane won’t be able to take back off.”
And I said, “Okay, we’ll say hi at the airport.” And, David, I tell you. We landed, and we were on a private jet. On a G4 so we landed. And you know, they let the stairs down, and they have the mat at the end of the stairs. The whole family was right there at the end of the mat. Like not even off the (laughs)-
…off the plane.. It’s like you barely get a whiff of fresh air, and now you’re greeted by, you know, 10, 15 people. We do the meet and greet, we get in the cars. Because this was another city where we went to perform and we were leaving that night. And we get there, he has another 50 something family
… family members at the venue and the same people that we just saw at the airport back again (laughs) in, in the meet and greets. It’s like, you know, and some of these countries, as much as we wanna move and I always tell people, I’ll say, you know, “We have a lot of freedoms in America and as mad as you want to get here, there are some countries that you just do not want to live in because you have no freedom, no say so whatsoever.” That’s one of the ones I remember.
I remember we got stuck in Indonesia, by another guy who wasn’t a government person but we found he was the number two mob boss in the whole country and he was more powerful than the president, a lot of the underworld, they run the governments. They fund it and everything else. It was one of those things where they were holding our passports and we couldn’t get them until we had a whole meet and greet. And it was always just about a meet and greet. It’s like everybody wants to meet the 18 year old kid that their daughters are going crazy over.
That must have been a crazy time for you. And, you got that position because Scooter Braun had signed Justin, right?
You guys had already been friends at that point.
You were more working in the music business. You were a DJ, had a radio show, I think you mentioned and already had interned. This was, your track. We’ll get back to what happened before that with the Navy but you did have this experience in the Navy. You did martial arts. You had, the physical ability to do your job, obviously the mental ability, as well to do a lot more than that.
But when you were asked to do this job, how did you feel? Did you think “Oh, man. This is not exactly what I had in mind as far as my career path-
… to suddenly be a security guard for this kid, god damn.” (laughs)
It’s crazy because I had been with Justin for about a year before I actually started working with him, when Scooter moved him to Atlanta. I would pick him up. I used to bring him to my radio station and say, “Hey, one day you’ll, you know, this is where you’ll sit and you’ll interview. This is how they play the music on the radio.” And this and that.
And, I remember Scooter calling me over to his condo at the time and he was telling me Justin was on the road. ‘Cause I was still working. I was working in radio, I had a part-time job at CarMax. I was engaged at the time. And I couldn’t go, I couldn’t just leave ’cause there wasn’t any money being made. So I couldn’t just stop everything that I was doing at the time. So Ryan who now runs Justin’s clothing line, Drew House, used to be Usher’s assistant. And Usher and Scooter were partnered on Justin, but Usher didn’t want Ryan as his assistant anymore but he was like, “Let’s put him with JB and he can move around to the studios and everything else.”
And when he started moving, Ryan was his road manager going with him and his mom for the first few trips when we started working on his first single, One Time. And Scooter said that Justin was doing a meet and greet and the girls were getting very excited to meet him. And this was when he was like, 4’10” (laughing) and one girl ran so hard to hug him and then, completely knocked him over. (laughing) And, and he was like, you know, we gotta get, uh, security for him. And I was like, “I know plenty of guys that do artist security.” I was like, “I could give you a lot of recommendations.” And he said, “No, I want you to do it.” And I was like, “I don’t wanna do that,” you know. (laughs)
And I said that’s not where, you know, I wanted to be a road manager. Scooter had another artist at the time, Asher Roth and we started having some acclaim on him and I wanted to go on the road with Asher. But Asher already had, two of his friends that were going on the road with him at the time. And Scooter knew that I wanted to be in management.
I wanted to be, on the executive side but the way he said it, he was like, “Look,” he was like, “you can do the job so it’s not that you can’t do it, and you’re one of the only people I trust to be in a room when I’m not there. So I know you have the kid’s best interest at heart. Him and his mom have got to know you, they love you.” It makes sense.
He’s like, “Tell me what, what you need, as far as financially to do this. And let’s do it.” And we spoke to Justin’s mom and she was like, “Well, you know, he hasn’t done this for an artist before.” And I was like, I mean, you know, we did just come out of a war (laughing) but we started Operation Enduring Freedom after the Towers went down. But, outside of that and yeah I have a martial arts background and a weapons background as well, that I’m very versed in.
I went with a buddy of mine, Elijah Shaw. Elijah is now J. Cole’s head of security, Elijah had a course in Minnesota, where he’s from in Minneapolis. So I flew up there, I did executive protection, got certified in that and then, I was moving. And my biggest thing that the reason why I didn’t really wanna do it, is I had gained so much weight (laughing) just by living off of the McDonald’s dollar menu for two years that every time I looked on TV, I saw a White pop star and a big fat Black dude next to him. (laughing)
And superman, Big Rob, at the time he’s with the Jonas Brothers, he’s a good friend of mine now. And then, there was this MTV show, Rob & Big, it was like, the White person and the big Black, I just didn’t wanna be typecast because I knew that in my head, I was a lot smarter. And not to say that security guys aren’t smart so I don’t wanna put that out there. But, I just know in my head where my path and my plan was the trajectory I wanted to go.
But I had to realize that, a lot of times, where we wanna go, it might not be that way that we think it is. It might have to make this right turn to make that left to get back on this path but I’m still getting there and I’m still moving. And that’s what I ended up realizing.
So when did you realize that ’cause, you became actually more than just a security guard, right?
Because you were the trusted person for Scooter so you had a very close relationship with Justin. You were in the room I imagine, when a whole bunch of stuff went down. You were on the stage, you would be called out on the stage, you would be dancing in the show.
You were in photos you became kind of a star, as well, right? People wanted to know who that guy was.
In retrospect, you think that was the right decision?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s just because of our dynamic. Like, people didn’t realize, there were managers trying to steal Justin early on, from Scooter. There were security guys coming in that would see, oh, this kid’s gonna be around a long time. I want this account so I can make all this money and try to push me out. Not realizing, and people that I would hire sometimes and if I needed extra help I would hire more guys. And I would find out that guys are trying to get in cool with his mom to try to get her to push me out. And not realizing that, no, this is not just a security job, this is everything.
I’m the one, I’m the first person he sees in the morning, last person he sees before he goes to bed. We have a lot of intimate conversations just about life. This is a young man and Scooter and I took it upon ourselves to know that we had a responsibility to help him develop and become the man that you see today. Justin and I had breakfast, about two weeks ago, over here in LA and we were just talking. We were talking just about music and he was telling me about another artist that he had saw that he really likes. And, I told him I knew the guy and he was like, “Man, you always know the real soulful stuff.”
And he came to a Dixon show that we did in LA earlier, in October. And he was like, “Man,” uh, he’s like, “that dude could sing.” He was like, “I remember we used to ride around and you would, introduce me to, Luther Vandross and Teddy Pendergrass and all these like, soul music.” And I was like, “Yeah, this is that music that gets the heart tingling.” And we were just reminiscing about some of these conversations.
Our relationship has always been different. It wasn’t just one thing on paper and that’s what a lot of people never understood until we did the film, Never Say Never. And Justin arguably had that Michael Jackson mystique to where, Scooter and I couldn’t walk around anywhere. Anyone in our crew, we couldn’t get anywhere because fans would want a picture with us just as much as they wanted one with him. And they wanted to touch us because they know that we touch him every day. I call that, that’s the Michael Jackson effect, I, uh, always mention. It was just a different time.
And, and what did, what do you think he learned from you and what did you learn from him?
The biggest thing I learned from him is patience and understanding that, in life, people have to go through things to understand it. And we forget that, this was a kid that was pulled out of school at 13 years old, just turned 14. Moved to another country, and started working on what he wanted to do and didn’t have that normal teenage life that we all did.
The biggest thing I hope that he’ll say that I taught him was, there’s a few things. I would say, compassion and loyalty. We always used to say like, “Hey, I don’t care how much money you got, I don’t care where you are in the world, you look the person in the eye, you tell him, thank you. I don’t care if it’s the housekeeper cleaning your house. The man doing your yard work. Everybody is a person. It don’t matter how much money they have or what they’re doing in life, they’re still a person. They got a soul, they got a heart and we love everybody, and we respect everybody.”
That’s one of the biggest things that we always knew when you would see all the spiraling or this or that in, in the news, I always knew his heart. We always knew that he was gonna be okay, you know. Nobody saw when I was 16 and got arrested for shoplifting at Macy’s and, and all the little crazy stuff that I did but this kid had to grow up in front of the world. And so his trajectory was always different but deep down, we always knew what his heart was. And I’m just glad that, now, the world really sees what we saw the whole time.
Well, you just mentioned, getting arrested for shoplifting at Macy’s which I, I imagine is true.
You just didn’t make that up. (laughing) And you had other encounters with the police. You weren’t exactly on the track for where you are today or maybe you were, who knows. I mean, you learn something from every experience. But, what happened? You, you, you got busted as I understand and then, you decided to go into the Navy as a way to kind of address a lot of these issues that you were having.
I did my freshman year of college in Nashville at, uh, Lipscomb University. And that summer, I moved back to Atlanta and I was living with one of my best friends at the time. We were just partying and selling drugs and doing other stuff that we shouldn’t have been doing. I grew up in a middle class part of East Atlanta called Stone Mountain, Georgia. About 25 miles outside the city. I didn’t grow up in the projects. I grew up in a nice house but in that area things are so cheap. So everybody had a house but it was still not the, you know, not the greatest area of like, other parts of Atlanta that are very affluent.
I remember there was, there was one time where the US Marshalls that, you know, was banging on our door but they were looking for my best friend’s girlfriend. And I got pulled over,
… for speeding. And I had all this stuff in the car and by the grace of God they didn’t search the car. I just got a speeding ticket and was let go. I just kept having little things in my life that was just like, “Oof, Man, that was close. If, if I get caught on this one, Man, they’re gonna lock me up for this. Or I’m gonna go here and there.” I wanted to be a sports agent, that why I went to school. ‘Cause Jerry Maguire changed my life.
When I saw that movie, I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know that all this stuff existed.” All I knew is you could be an athlete or you got to be a doctor or a lawyer. Those are the only professions I knew about. And so, I just was like, “I gotta get outta here.” And I didn’t know what to do and, or how to do it, or how to go.
And, I saw a commercial for the Navy and I was like, “Huh. Maybe I’ll just go in the military.” And I had two friends that joined the Army the year prior, right when we graduated from high school. They had been over in Iraq. And I called them and they were telling me about their experiences I was like, “I don’t wanna do that.” And then I had one uncle that was in the Navy in the ’80s and I called him and he was like, “Yeah, Man, we went to all different kinds of islands and I got to see, beautiful parts of the world and women.” And I said, “Say no more.”
I went to the recruiting station and I said, “I wanna join.” And, within two weeks I was out. I shipped off to basic training in Chicago, Great Lakes, at the naval station up there. And, three weeks in I was like, “What the hell did I do with my life?”
(laughs) And not in a good way, you mean?
Man, I was like, “Did I just freak out. Did I just make one rash decision?” And then I settled in, “I’m here now, I gotta see it through.” And I saw it through. I just did the best that I could do, while I was in. And I made E5 within a year and like two months by the time I got on my boat. E5 in the Army is a Sergeant. E5 in the Navy is a Second Class Petty Officer. And I just became the man around, the man around town on my ship.
But then something went wrong, right? And then you had to leave before you were necessarily planning to.
Yeah, yeah. Now it’s cool but I was still smoking weed, smoking marijuana and failing a drug test. I had three months left on my contract ’cause my agreement was four years active, four years reserve. So I have an other than honorable discharge. Not a dishonorable, but I have an other than honorable discharge. And they took away, I had a $40,000 Navy college fund and like a VA loan.
I never thought about going back to school ’cause I realized I wanted to work in music while I was in the Navy. But the biggest thing now is like, “Oh damn, I could’ve used that VA loan, especially in California.” (laughs)
Really. Well the cannabis thing, so obviously it’s something you’ve grew up with –
– and continued then, you maybe do or don’t right now. I don’t know. But Justin, JB has started a line of his cannabis, right.
So cannabis –
[crosstalk 00:39:12] over here somewhere.
You did? So cannabis has become part of the business of the world. Is that something that you’re engaged in actively, whether in business or otherwise?
I use a lot of CBD products now for recovery. For my knees and, and everything else because I used to have to take so much Ibuprofen and things like that for my joints. And then you start realizing, well that’s not good for you either. So I started looking, using a lot of CBD products years ago, um, whether it’s creams. I just smoke occasionally. Or even edibles and stuff that, that really help with joint soreness and things like that. ‘Cause I still like to try to play basketball. I have a Peloton over here, I’m forty now, so I try to move as much as possible.
Don’t stop, Man. (laughs) That’s the secret. (laughs)
And it, and it’s crazy because I’m launching a record label next year, and I’ve been looking at different investments and stuff, but I’m launching the Angel Fund, top of the year where I’m starting to raise and I’ve been having preliminary conversations. And I got, two guys that are investing in my fund and they’ve made over $50 million in the cannabis business over the last three years.
And these guys are thirty years old.
Which side of the business are they in? What do they do?
Yeah. They’re based in Michigan. And they’re looking at all the states that have passed the legislation. Georgia, Atlanta’s next on our list because the State of Georgia’s gonna pass, where recreational use is gonna happen and everyone’s waiting to get their licenses now. But then you, you gotta pick whatever the federal fine is, er, for it. And then I have other friends that have marijuana funds that are buying companies, and taking ownership in a lot of different companies and things like that. It’s an incredible business. I don’t have any, any business in it just yet, um, but I wouldn’t shy away from it.
Before letting you go, I need to find out more about your Scooter Braun friendship. Where did this come from and what’s the secret to keeping it going so long?
The secret of keeping it going so long is just it’s real. It’s the realness, it’s more than a friendship, it’s family. That’s my brother. We were twenty three, I’d just turned twenty three, when we first met. And we were just hanging out. He had just dropped out of Emory maybe like a year before we had met. And he had a party promotions company called Miseducated Entertainment and he was throwing parties with his friends, for Emory and Georgia Tech students. But he would have Ludachris come perform or Little John really good name artists around Atlanta. And he started making a name for himself, which is how he ended up getting a job at So So Def and he did different marketing deals that way.
I told him, we were sitting down one day and I was like, “Hey, Man, I really wanna be in the record industry, working with artists.” And he said, “Well, you work with me on, on…” Dixon’s cousin at the time was in a group called Overdose. His name was Kado. And he was like, “You work with me with Kado and the guys and, I was like, “Whatever we need.” I was the utility guy. Anything that needed to be done, I would do it. If I got to change the garbage disposal in the sink, I learned how to do that, toilets, whatever. You need me to drive across town to drop these CDs off, I was just ready. I just wanted to work in the business. So anything I wanted to do was that and it was just a loyalty thing.
Anytime something needed to be done, I was reliable and I could get it done, which is the same way I did, interning at the radio station. We had to do three events a week, I did eight, you know. Sometimes I didn’t sleep or I would sleep in my car and open the Team Mobile store the next day. I took a shower and put my uniform on and whatever it took, I just believed in him. I believed in his vision. So where he was going, I was like, “What d’you need? I got it.” And for the first five years that we were working together, I never made any money. It was one of those things where, “Hey, I found this kid,” and he sent me a YouTube video of Justin singing, Someday at Christmas and I put it on my My Space page. And I was like, “Man, this kid can sing.”
I remember we were sitting over in his place and we were smoking weed actually that night, hanging out, having a beer, smoking, a little bong and talking to his Mom on the phone. And, you know, they’re very Christian and he was like, “Well I don’t know about churches, but Kenny knows all the churches around.” And, he put me on the phone with Patty and I was like, “Yeah, there’s plenty of churches around. This is the South, there’s a whole lot of Christians around here.” (laughs)
(laughs) whatever the connection, right, who knew?
From that point on, I remember that first conversation still to this day. We knew Justin would be successful, but no-one knew it would be what it is now.
No. How could you?
You can never, you can never predict that, right?
But, we stayed true to it and nobody’s ego ever got in the way. It was just about getting the work done. People thought Scooter and I were partners and things like that. We’re not, Scooter and Allison are, Allison Kaye, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life, who’s Scooter’s partner, in his company. And she’d been around, ’cause she was Asher Roth’s attorney at the time. So she was around since day one as well. I learned so much from both of them that I knew what my role was. My role was to execute anything that the two of them wanted me to do, that I would make sure it got done. And I would make sure that this kid stayed out of trouble, no matter what.
I got good at my job. I moved very covertly, even during the security times and I knew that if I went to this country or that country, I needed to hire ex military guys. That was the only ones I really trusted at the time, to help me maneuver, the thing with us is, yeah, that’s my brother.
His parents are like my Godparents. I converted to Judaism years ago. He never even knew that I was doing that, but his father was one of the first people that I had a conversation with and sat down with. Every time I’m in New York, I go see them. I had jaw surgery back in 2012 to correct an issue I had with my lower jaw and his mother was an Orthodontist and she found my surgeon. After my surgery I was in Connecticut, she nursed me back to health for three months. It’s more than just a friendship. This is, family at the highest level.
That’s a great story. And a very inspirational story. And I know for younger people looking to get into the game somehow, I think your message is loud and clear. Over-deliver, over-deliver.
What, whatever you’re asked to do, just …
Yeah, and just be consistent. Because, like I said earlier, the path that we want to get to go, to get to that goal is not always the road that we have mapped out. And it’s crazy watching this film, King Richard, about Venus and Serena’s Dad. He wrote down a plan, and had a plan the whole time about his daughters being where they are today and he got to a point where he was blocking that plan and didn’t realize it. And they made him realize it. And when he did, that’s when he let Venus go, back to playing matches at fourteen after not playing for a few years when she was dominating. And then you’re like, “Look at them.” And he always said, “Serena’s gonna be the best ever, but Venus is gonna be the one to walk in, walk through that door first.” And so, it’s all about a plan and just being consistent, putting in the work.
Well, thank you very much for putting in the work, Kenny Hamilton, and for being the guest on my show today.
Thank you for having me David, I really appreciate it.